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Worrying about the fate of newspapers June 25, 2009

Posted by lizrosenberg in Uncategorized.
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I can’t eat breakfast without a newspaper in my hands. Neal Postman in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” commented that any human being who can watch the daily news and continue to eat a sandwich has something deeply wrong with them. But there’s a subtle yet  important difference between watching the news and reading a newspaper– which is exactly why I am praying newspapers survive. For one thing, I can control what news article I read, and I can’t control what’s on the tv.

One reason I stopped checking email at AOL is because I can’t filter out those awful headlines that come along with that overly enthusiastic man announcing You’ve got mail!” as if I should be overjoyed at the latest offer from Victoria’s secret. I can’t stop them from showing me gruesome photos, or telling me who got cut from So You Think You Can Dance when I haven’t gotten around to watching the last taped episode yet.

I still remember that bedeviled woman who drove her car into a lake, drowning her own children in the backseat of her car, hoping to keep some man who had dumped her. I was in a pizza parlor where tvs were mounted on every  wall. I was there eating pizza with my then-five year old son when that little humdinger came on the news. I saw that he understood what he was watching. We both watched in horror the photos of that car in the water. “She drove her kids?” he asked me. “Into the lake?”

“Time to change the channel!” I sang out, and raced over to the nearest screen and blocked it with my body. The damage was done. My kid now knew there were mothers who will kill their own children to get what they want.

I can fold over the page of a newspaper. I can choose.  I can stop when it gets unbearable. But as a life-long addict to words,  I also love the rustle of the paper. Its looseness, like an animal’s ear flopping down, that silky thin-as-an-old-dollar-bill texture, the smell of the ink, the way it rubs off on my hands or whatever I am foolish enough to rest there. I like wrestling the thing and always losing and then viewing the crumpled mess after I have read it, something like the carcass of the Thanksgiving bird. I love the ridiculous thrill I get when I  find a coupon for something I actually intend to buy, like a meal, or a skein of yarn. I feel like I just got away with something.

Let me also admit I always start with the local news. And the business section, even in these g-dawful times, is about as scary as the Food Network. I don’t care about sports, but I’ll read the sports page because nothing bad ever happens there, as far as I’m concerned. I like reading about weather, because it all looks so pretty there on the page, even rain, even clouds. Obituaries depress me, though, the ranks of the dead forever swelling, and those ads that people take out to talk to their dead beloveds just slay me.

I like ads for local businesses, the more amateurish the better. My six year old likes the newspaper because she enjoys the comics, even during the weekdays when it’s all black and white. She never has to see a mother drowning her kids. Just her own mother, happily mauling a neat pile of papers , with one or two rectangles where she’s clipped yet another coupon to hang fluttering on the fridge for years.

Thoreau disliked the news, said he’d never read a word in a newspaper that informed him about anything. “All news,” he wrote, “is gossip.” He also said, “What news! How much more important to know what this is which was never old!” Thoreau was right, of course– he was nearly always right, which somehow doesn’t make him any more endearing. Nonetheless I hope I do not outlive the newspaper. I spend altogether too much time in front of screens, and the only one that ever did me any good is a movie screen— that dream life writ large in the dark. A newspaper is the additive inverse of a movie screen– stark reality’s fine print published in broad day. (I always associate a newspaper with morning.) Somewhere between those two extremes, we live and gather our sense of the world. And I am a creature of my own affections and would like to see them survive.

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Worry a Day: Are we too stupid to survive? on gays in the military June 23, 2009

Posted by lizrosenberg in Uncategorized.
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The Supreme Court refused last Monday to consider a legal challenge to the Pentagon’s bizarre ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy. It worries me that we can still really be this dumb, as a nation.

I don’t see whose business it is, anyway, someone else’s sexuality. But the 1993 law allows the Pentagon to fire anyone in the military who decides TO tell. I agree with former Captain James Pietrangelo who calls this “an absolute travesty of justice” and “rubber stamping legalized discrimination.”

If you follow the logic of the Pentagon here, you have to conclude that there can be no women in the military, either, because the idea is that people are driven so brainless by their own sexuality that they become a danger to themselves and others. Or that there can be no true comradery where there is also sexual attraction. Or that people lose their identity as a group where there is sexual tension.

Sexuality is part of normal adult life. If anything, it makes us sharper, funnier, braver, more alive and alert. The most dysfunctional social groups I know are same-sex heterosexual groups. I’m not talking about an all-women’s book club, I mean for instance all women in a medical office working day after day. Or all guys working on a construction site. You want to see some seriously bizarre behavior, take a look at some grownups who never even get to TALK to anyone of the opposite sex.

There’s a famous scene in The Iliad where Achilles becomes an insane fighting machine to avenge the death of his beloved/friend Patroclus. Or think of the courage of Jonathan and David. If the ancient Greeks and the Bible were smart enough to make these connections, why are we such dunderheads? My husband would fight harder to protect me than almost anyone or anything else on earth. Love does not make us weaker, it makes us stronger. Besides, I don’t believe soldiers whose lives are at stake are worrying about each other’s sexuality.  I don’t think we as civilians can begin to understand the comradery and the bond that exists under such duress.

More than 70% of military personnel say they feel comfortable in the presence of gay personnel. The American public feels about the same.  A poll conducted in May 2005 by the Boston Globe showed 79% of participants having nothing against openly gay people from serving in the military. In a 2008 Washington PostABC News poll, 75% of Americans – including 80% of Democrats, 75% of independents, and 66% of conservatives – said that openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. Even the most conservative groups now favor that idea. A May 27th 2009 Gallup poll showed 69% support across the board. — As with most highly-charged issues, maybe we should just put it to a national referendum & be done with it.

The Clinton presidency was over as soon as he lost the battle over gays in the military. The whole edifice began to sag. You can’t take the moral high ground and then sink it. This is a civil rights issue, and it matters as all civil rights issues profoundly matter. This brings out our secret predjudices about gay and lesbian Americans, our distrust of them, and by extension, of ourselves. Obama is capable of going to the military and working this out. That’s why we elected him Commander in Chief.

Worry a Day: a word of explanation June 22, 2009

Posted by lizrosenberg in Uncategorized.
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I worry enough to keep this going every day, but I probably won’t. Maybe once a week.

I don’t worry so much that I’ll run out of worries as I worry that I will bore myself and everyone else. When I was a kid, I kept a diary. It was dull. I mean, it bores even me to re-read it. Blogs strike me as being a little like hundreds of thousands of diaries being published all over the world.

Who reads these things?

Also, there’s something called a “house style” in magazine writing. Similarly, there is a certain style of gushing that passes for writing in a lot of blogs. (Not all. Some are beautifully written.) But I’m afraid I might fall into the gushing style, and get stuck there – the way grownups used to tell you if you crossed your eyes they would get stick that way. For awhile I wrote a column for a famous parenting magazine once and after about a year I could barely hear myself anymore for all the House Style.

I’m also afraid I’ll use up my best lines and ideas here in the random virtual universe. So I’ll probably end up stealing from myself. This publishing network of the ozone reminds me of what William Blake wrote, about two hundred years ago. (Of course he was schizophrenic, but also visionary.) I’m paraphrasing here but basically what he said was,

when I write, my work is instantly published all over the universe and the angels read it.

Of course here on earth he was not having such an easy time of it.

Also this: The poet Heather McHugh once said, If I don’t sit quietly sometimes, I’m afraid the angel will not speak to me anymore.

And I’m afraid of wasting people’s time, which is why I have provided a link to people who are more interesting and smarter writers than I am. (see website, click on links. There they are!)

This is why I always wear interesting jewelry or a beautiful scarf when I give a reading. I figure, if I’m going to bore some people to tears here, at least let me give them something worth looking at.

In any event, there is plenty in this world to worry about far, far larger than my blog, my brain or my anything. So, that is what I will move onto next. But I thought I’d begin with a personal note of introduction.

I also worry that no one will ever read this. But that’s an old, old worry, common to most writers— but not, apparently, to William Blake.

My First Worry June 19, 2009

Posted by lizrosenberg in Uncategorized.
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I’m worried I won’t find enough to worry about.